A Nation Stricken with Grief

Asaf Ramon, the son of Ilan Ramon, was buried today next to his father in Israel’s Nahalal cemetery. Like his father, he was a captian in the IAF. Like his father, he wanted to be an astronaut. His father Ilan died in the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, which exploded upon re-entry.

Asaf’s fighter jet exploded during a routine training flight.

I’ve been working on and off on a poem about Ilan Ramon. After the explosion, scraps of his space diary were found on earth and pieced together by forensic scientists in Israel. It is an amazing story. I wonder how people can praise God in such situations, though.

Ilan Ramon and the Second Holocaust

Ilan Ramons diary
Ilan Ramon’s diary

This isn’t a new story, of course, but I’ve been intrigued by it ever since I first heard about the Ramon diary on the radio a couple of years ago. The above page was found almost two months after the Columbia disaster that killed Ramon and six other astronauts. There is not much out there on him, so I had to settle for a young reader’s biography on him.

Briefly, Ilan Ramon had been a colonel in the Israeli Air Force (IAF), the same one that is maligned day in and day out in the world media. Ramon had actually been one of the pilots on the bombing mission to take out Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, Operation Opera. According to my little book, by Devra Newberger Speregen, Ramon’s bomb was one of the one’s to do in the nuclear arsenal. Speregen relates the following anecdote:

Commander Yadlin (of the IAF) later remembered something Ilan told him at the time they were preparing for the Iraqi attack: “If I can prevent a second Holocaust, I’m ready to sacrifice my life for this.”

Ramon’s words pre-date Operation Shylock, the novel by Philip Roth in which the possibility of a second Holocaust is posited rather convincingly. Ron Rosenbaum took up the theme in 2002:

The Second Holocaust. It’s a phrase we may have to begin thinking about. A possibility we may have to contemplate. A reality we may have to witness. Somebody has to think about the unthinkable, about the unbearable, and the way it looks now, it’s at least as likely to happen as not. One can imagine several ways it will happen: the current, terrible situation devolves from slow-motion mutual slaughter into instantaneous conflagration, nuclear, chemical or biological. Scenarios that remain regional. Scenarios that go global.

Can we allow ourselves the bliss of ignorance at a time like this?